One Year Olds: Moving from Independent to Group Play

While every parent wants to know when to expect certain milestones in their children’s lives, this cannot be predicted with great accuracy. However, general trends do appear in certain age groups. One of these is that one year olds start to build connections with peers. Like everything else in your child’s development, exactly how and when this happens depends on each individual child.

As children progress from one to two years old, they start understanding more about the world and people around them. They will begin to understand their connection to certain places, such as home and school, and the people they see each day. They may start saying the names of the other children in their group care setting and even expressing a preference for a few children. In general, children at this age engage in what is called “parallel play” with peers. Children will play near each other in the same manner or with the same materials, but without much partnership or teamwork in their play. “Functional play” is also very common. This type of play is characterized by a certain act, like moving a toy car back and forth across a rug. As children grown into two year olds and preschoolers, they begin to move from these types of play into cooperative play.

Since one year olds do not usually have very strong verbal skills and are still in an egotistical state of mind, the beginnings of group play can get a little tricky. Children may simply grab toys from other kids or try to force them to play in a certain manner. This is not children being mean, but simply learning how to interact with their peers. Calm, supportive adults can help greatly in this situation.

As children tend to need help with this, there are a variety of ways to help one year olds navigate their transition from independent to group play. Teachers or parents can suggest that a child invite another child to share a toy, for example, or to ask nicely if they can play with the other child. Reminding children to ask nicely and to share can go a long way, as toddlers are just learning empathy. Helping children keep what they are playing with is also important. It is key to remember that children this age may become very easily frustrated, and to make sure that they feel safe, respected and supported during the process.